Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about living on a houseboat in Suffolk
- Credit: Archant
Bev Rogers from Woodbridge explains the basics of boat life, from mooring fees to keeping warm in winter.
Living aboard a boat would be the dream for many, but for Bev Rogers, she’s managed to turn that dream into a reality.
Currently moored up at Ferry Quay, Bev has been living aboard boats for 30 years, and couldn’t imagine life on land now.
“My first boat was a little narrowboat, about 27 feet in length. I’d just finished university and had moved back home, unsure what I wanted to do with myself. I was working in a pizza place when one of the delivery drivers came in and said ‘I’ve got a narrowboat for sale’.”
With £5,000 in savings, Bev took the plunge – and hasn’t looked back since.
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“I thought to myself if I buy a boat, whatever happens, I’ll always have a home and a holiday. I’d never been on a boat before then, so I knew nothing about it.”
Shortly after making her purchase, Bev took her houseboat up to Bradford, where she lived while she was studying for a Masters. “After that I ended up buying a bigger boat and living in London on it, which is where I met my husband Gary. He was living on his own narrowboat, so the two of us eventually sold our boats and bought a Dutch barge together, which is much larger.
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“Once the kids came along, we got another Dutch barge, which is the one we’re currently living on now.”
‘Tijdstroom’ which is Dutch for ‘time/tide stream’, travelled around Holland, Belgium and France before docking up in Woodbridge, where the family currently resides.
One of the bigger boats moored at Ferry Quay, Tijdstroom is 24 metres long, 4.5 metres wide, and features a number of rooms throughout.
“As you walk in, that’s what we call the wheel house, and it’s where you stand and steer the boat. If you go down the back to the stern, that’s the back cabin, which is mine and my husband’s bedroom. You can also access the engine room from there. If you go the other way, down the stairs and into the bow of the boat, we have an open-plan kitchen and lounge area. There’s also two cabins which are the kids’ bedrooms, and a bathroom off one of those rooms.”
So how has living on a boat for so many years been for this family of four?
“Honestly, it’s been fabulous,” Bev says. “But the work never ends. When we bought the boat, it needed a lot of work doing. We’ve had it for 12 years, and we’re still working on it. You either need to be really practical if you want to live on a boat, or have the money to pay people to do the work that’s required.”
Contrary to what many may think, many houseboats have electricity and are easy to keep warm. “As this is a permanent residential mooring, we have access to electricity, water, a phone, internet, and all of our heating is from solid fuel stoves.”
Prior to mooring up in Woodbridge, Bev and her family would rely on solar panels on top of the boat and water tanks.
“Living on a boat makes you eco-conscious, as most of the time you’re having to produce your own electricity and get your own water.”
However, certain appliances aren’t particularly boat-friendly. “You’d never have an electric kettle on a boat - anything that has to heat up is a no-no, including hair straighteners and electric heaters. You can have an iron and a washing machine, but you just have to manage how you use them - you can’t use them at the same time.”
Bev, who runs her own business from her houseboat, has managed to not only become eco-conscious but also aware of what stuff her family keeps onboard, opting for a more minimal lifestyle.
“Everything on a boat has to have multiple uses, as your space is limited. In a way, it’s good as it stops you being a mass consumer. For example, I don’t own a vase as I only get flowers a few times a year, so I use a jug or milk bottle instead.”
If anyone is thinking of taking to the water, there’s a few more things to consider. “You can’t just turn up to a permanent mooring – you need to apply for a space, as they’re not easy to come by.
“People think it’s cheaper than living in a house, as the initial price of a boat is nothing compared to that of a house, but a mortgage you would eventually pay that off. With a boat, you’ll always have outgoing costs as you need pay mooring fees every month.”
Mooring fees vary, and depend on the size of the boat, and whether you’re a permanent resident.
Bev pays between £300 and £400 a month to moor at Ferry Quay, and for that price, the family enjoys an electricity hook-up, water, refuse and recycling disposal, and a parking space. “We also have a shower block with toilets, washing machines, dryers and our own postbox.”
While not having a garden was initially a concern for Bev, she soon realised that her garden would be all around her, with Woodbridge providing wide, open spaces and beautiful scenery for the whole family to explore whenever they wanted.
“By living on a boat, you can be in really nice locations that you might not be able afford a house in, and I’m really pleased we decided to stay in Suffolk.
“Woodbridge is the perfect sized town to bring up a family in – you’ve got the feel of a really lovely community with all of the amenities. As we live just outside of the train station, the kids were able to access Norfolk and Ipswich really easily once they got older.”
Originally planning to move once the kids both left home, Bev and her husband can’t see themselves leaving the dock anytime soon now. “We’ve thought about going back up north but the longer we’ve been here, the less we want to leave. It’s so nice here, I think we’re probably going to stay.”
If boat life is something you’re considering, Bev has a few handy tips to help you decide whether it’s right for you.
“I didn’t do this, but it would be a great idea to stay on a boat before buying one, just to see what it’s like. Try and stay during different times of year as well. You’ll then need to work out whether you want a wooden or steel boat, and if it’ll have an engine or not.
“Also, you must get a survey done - that’s a trap a lot of people fall into, but the boat needs to come out of the water so you know exactly what you’re buying.”
Thirdly, Bev recommends having an arsenal of power tools at your disposal for any maintenance.
“When I bought my boat at 21, I didn’t have any tools, so for my birthday I got a power drill. You’ve got to think is that the sort of lifestyle you want – there’s going to be a lot of maintenance to keep it looking nice.
“But regardless, the rewards are great. When I was younger, my boat came with me, and as long as you’re heading for somewhere with a waterway, which most of the UK has, you’re absolutely fine. You just take your boat with you and go.”